World-class ‘green’ on a budget

How can university estates teams deliver accommodation that is more environmentally sustainable while remaining affordable?

The GB Group’s student accommodation sector specialist Dan Spencer explains how this has been achieved on the 4,000 units it has delivered in the past three years.

Increasing competition to attract and retain students has led to renewed pressure on the higher education sector to provide not only high quality learning environments but living accommodation as well. This brings yet further challenges to a sector already suffering rising energy costs and carbon reduction targets. So it’s not surprising that the sector is leading from the front when it comes to sustainability.

Environmentally-friendly estates management strategies are demanding reduced running and operational costs, as well as first-class facilities that set them apart from competitor establishments. This is being achieved through collaboration with supply chain partners to deliver projects which are top performers in all aspects.

While a highly sustainable facility is often desired in a sector that strives to be innovative and at the forefront of cutting edge research, there is often a concern that enhanced sustainability increases costs. Contrary to what many believe, building environmentally-friendly new student accommodation or teaching and learning facilities doesn’t necessarily come with a higher price tag as longer term running costs are drastically reduced making the whole-life cost substantially cheaper.

Smarter design solutions

Critical to the success of a scheme is the engagement of a contractor from early design concept to offer intelligent solutions that improve the quality and performance of the finished product at an affordable cost. In the past, through early engagement, we have provided design alternatives which delivered cost savings for the same number of bedrooms and net student usable space or released capital to allow a higher quality finish.

With more universities investing in on-campus accommodation, seeking early advice can help to avoid delays in procurement and ensures cost certainty from design through to contractor appointment. Our practical “Should Cost” approach offers early cost plan advice and produces a “Not to Exceed” budget, which gives the Estates team a realistic figure to work with and a true sense of what can be achieved for their money.

Adopting a fabric-first approach

The best foundation for constructing to high environmental standards is to use a fabric-first approach to ensure a building’s envelope is as airtight and thermally efficient as possible. In the longer term, this keeps mechanical heating and running costs to a minimum during use, which is a highly desirable feature particularly with rising energy costs. If the building shell does all the hard work conserving energy, there is less reliance on bolt-on technologies which can be costly to install, maintain and run, and have a reduced life expectancy in comparison to core building elements.

By considering the most effective construction methodology from the very start of the design process, it is possible to build cost-effectively while still meeting stringent environmental standards such as Passivhaus and BREEAM ‘Outstanding’.

Quality advice, robust collaboration

Achievement of internationally-recognised standards is at the core of our solutions-led approach. We find out what matters to clients and work hard to deliver efficiently and effectively. Understanding that operators and universities have differing requirements and specification needs, we work closely with Estates teams to develop finishes and furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E). It’s a pragmatic process which complements our fabric-first approach and one which is winning recognition throughout the sector.

The GB Group’s portfolio includes King’s College London, The Green and STEM Building at the University of Bradford and, most recently, a student accommodation block in Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Our award-winning student accommodation projects are all testaments to our approach, and demonstrate that quality advice and robust collaboration between the contractor and the Estates team can make a real difference to creating world-class sustainable living and learning environments.

The Green, the multi-award-winning student village at the University of Bradford and the world’s most sustainable development of its kind, was where we honed our experience of the sector and have developed cheaper and quicker construction methods through constant feedback loops. With a design-stage score of 95.05%, the scheme became the highest-ever BREEAM rated building in the world on completion in August 2011. It was the first multi-residential building in the UK and one of only 15 buildings worldwide to achieve the ‘Outstanding’ rating.

The Green provides quality living space and is equipped to educate generations of future professionals about the benefits of sustainable living. It has also served as a model for our fabric-first approach and has provided a benchmark for our continued development on other exemplar projects.

In May, GB Building Solutions started work on a scheme for Builde Developments Ltd to re-develop land at the former Bristol Road Ambulance Station in Selly Oak, Birmingham into a futuristic £10.4m student accommodation scheme, close to the city’s main university campus.

Buile Developments director Andrew Whatson said: “Early engagement with the team at GB meant our design team could work together to ensure best value was achieved prior to submitting our planning application. They have delivered on their pre-planning cost advice and we are confident the build process will also meet our high expectations; a significant achievement and one that leads me to recommend that all developers consider the early engagement of contractors.”

By involving a contractor at the earliest stage in the design process and employing a fabric-first approach, university estates teams really can achieve world-class “green” schemes on time and to budget.